CLEARWATER – Spread out over five venues and two hotels, the 28th annual Suncoast Jazz Festival will run Friday through Sunday, Nov. 16-18, and will showcase some of the best professional jazz musicians from all over the United States as well as aspiring young musicians from the community.
Daily tickets are on sale now and are $50 for Friday, $50 for Saturday and $40 for Sunday. Three-day tickets are $135. Student tickets are available for $10. For information on sponsorships and additional ticket options or to purchase tickets, visit www.suncoastjazzclassic.com or call 727-248-9441.
The festival will span five simultaneous venues at the Sheraton Sand Key, 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach; and Clearwater Beach Marriott Suites on Sand Key, 1201 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach. Jolley Trolley lines will allow attendees to move from one venue to another to hear the various entertainers throughout the three-day festival weekend.
Featured will be more than 20 bands and guest artists. Performers hail from the Tampa Bay area and beyond. Annually, attendees are drawn from around the U.S. and from international locations. These professional bands will be serving up sizzling sounds, ranging from traditional jazz, big band and swing to zydeco, banjos, rockabilly and more.
This year’s lineup will feature performances by Professor Cunningham and His Old School, Dave Bennett Quartet, Tom Rigney and Flambeau, High Sierra, Cornet Chop Suey, Terry and the Pirates, Queen Jazz Band, Danny Sinoff Quintet, La Lucha and many more.
Festival organizers are dedicated to preserving and promoting jazz.
The festival provides opportunities for both professional musicians to perform and share their music with enthusiastic and very appreciative audiences here in Pinellas County. Because of the generosity of a lot of individual sponsors and attendees, the festival has been able to give back to the community over the past 28 years in the form of financial support of programs for aspiring young jazz musicians. As a 501(c)3 organization, the festival provides substantial scholarships and educational events benefiting young musicians in our community.
This year’s participating musicians are looking forward to the festival.
“This festival is a wonderful opportunity for us to work as a full 7-piece band, which is almost impossible at festivals these days,” said Adrian Cunningham of Professor Cunningham and His Old School. He said he is normally forced to work as a 5-piece band at other festivals. “We love playing as a full ensemble, so that is a personal highlight for me.”
Cunningham also recognizes a difference in those who attend the Suncoast Jazz Festival.
“The Florida community is a jazz-educated audience, which is harder to come by these days,” he explained. “So, for us to play this great music to a truly appreciative and understanding audience is an extra plus for us.”
Cunningham praises the organizers of the Suncoast Jazz Festival for their commitment to preserving and promoting jazz.
“I think festivals like Suncoast taking a chance on new faces coming to perform is an important way to keep this music going, and connecting with new and younger fans,” Cunningham said. “Also, the festival programs live music for downtown public areas. We are bringing music to the public. That’s a great way to raise awareness of both the festival and this music.”
Cunningham is an award winning multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and world traveler.
Originally from Sydney Australia and now based in New York, he is proving to be one of his country’s top exports. With fluent command of the saxophones, clarinet and flute, he is one of the finest multi-instrumentalists in jazz.
Cunningham recently recorded with jazz luminaries Jeff Hamilton, John Clayton and Ted Rosenthal with his latest recording “Jazz Speak.”
Professor Cunningham and His Old School is one of the most sought-after groups on the international swing scene, performing around the world at major events and festivals. This award-winning band performs the most swinging and grooving repertoire deeply steeped in the New Orleans tradition.
Rossano Sportiello, a world-renowned stride pianist, was born in Italy and started piano lessons at age 9. He turned professional at age 16, playing in local bands and establishments. In 1992, Sportiello joined the historic jazz band Milano Jazz Gang. At that time, he was proclaimed to be the top jazz pianist in Europe.
He counts among his influences Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum and Count Basie.
In 2007, Sportiello married American writer Lala Moore and moved to New York City.
Sportiello maintains a full schedule of concerts in the United States and Europe and even though he’s an Italian born musician, he’s considered to be one of the major interpreters of the American jazz idiom, with particular attention to the period from the Harlem Stride piano style of the ‘20s and ‘30s to the Be-Bop of the ‘50s.
“My very first official performance in the United States of America was in Clearwater Beach back in 2003, for the March of Jazz, the famous jazz event organized and sponsored by the late Mat Domber and his wife Rachel,” Sportiello said in an email. He has played festivals and venues in the Tampa Bay area many times since. “In more recent years, at the Palladium with Nicki Parrott and Eddie Metz.”
Sportiello is looking forward both to performing and to seeing other jazz artists at the festival.
“I find appealing the fact that I’ll be performing with some good friends and great musicians,” he said. “I’d like to mention Chuck Redd, Eddie Metz and Tommy Cecil among others.”
According to Sportiello, the Suncoast Jazz Festival does much more than entertain.
“Festivals like these are essential to try to keep the music alive, not only in the field of traditional jazz,” he explained. “I’d like to express my gratitude to the organizers, the volunteers and the sponsors for the great work they do. These are people motivated by genuine love for the music and the artists. Without their efforts there would be no festival.”
Also on the bill this year is Dave Bennett, a genuine clarinet phenomenon. His music evokes Benny Goodman’s style and sound. Bennett enthralls audiences with toe-tapping swing, moody blues and emotional ballads. His quartet plays traditional jazz, swing, country and Bennett’s original jazz interpretations. An early Dave Bennett played in Florida at age 14 with the New Reformation Jazz Band as a side man and now leads his own world-famous quartet.
Tom Rigney and Flambeau will be performing. This fast-moving high-energy group of talented musicians features Rigney on electric violin. Rigney is known for his swashbuckling attitude and flowing cape.
The band’s program will include zydeco, two-steps, blues and funky New Orleans grooves. Rigney’s original tunes will be part of all programs and hopefully Carolyn Dahl’s boogie woogie will be heard in all sets.
La Lucha bring their musical versatility to the festival. The Tampa Bay based trio consists of three best friends from three different parts of the world: Colombia, Mexico and the United States. Members include John O’Leary on piano, Alejandro Arenas on bass and Mark Feinman on drums.
Their music ventures boldly into a wide variety of musical styles, offering an appealing and fun mix of genres under the jazz umbrella.
“A Cup of Fuzzy Water,” the band’s debut album, was released in 2009 and their second self-titled album was released in June 2012. Their third album, “Standards, Not-Standards,” featuring vocalist Jun, was released in January 2015 on Blue Line Music.
Sarasota resident Betty Comora will take the stage during this year’s festival.
Comora is a multifaceted musician having performed professionally as a jazz pianist, singer, guitarist and banjo strummer. However, attendees will find that it’s Comora’s shtick as “washboard woman” that makes her a big hit in jazz events in the United States and beyond.
Visitors to the Suncoast Jazz Festival can find her in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel. Washboards will be available for those who want to join in and play along.
Nate Najar is an American guitarist, music producer and composer who plays mostly as a fingerstyle guitarist playing the classical guitar.
Najar recently released a follow-up to his acclaimed 2016 album “This Is Nate Najar.” On “Under Paris Skies,” his new album, Najar explores his passion for French jazz and pop with deeper commitment and purpose than ever before. The 11-track collection extends Najar’s creative relationship with Woodward Avenue Records, which released his “Christmas in December” in 2017. Najar’s affiliation with the popular jazz label dates back to “Groove Me,” his 2010 collaboration with Melba Moore that reached the Top 10 of the Billboard Jazz chart.
His artistry evokes a modern and progressive attitude that perpetuates the legacy of the great Charlie Byrd.
Paul and Theresa Scavarda return to the festival this year.
Theresa (Bette) is a native of Indianapolis. She made her stage debut in the arms of Yul Brinner at age 2, in the touring company of "The King and I." She spent years performing in stage productions, cabarets and recording sessions as a background vocalist and jingle singer.
Theresa was appearing in Branson, Missiouri, when she was offered a six-week contract to front a jazz band in Atlantic City that eventually lasted six years. That is when she met up with Paul. As that gig wound down they were offered a gig in Tokyo, Japan, by the Walt Disney Company.
After a three year stay there they moved to Central Florida where she has become a sought after vocal coach and musical theatre instructor in the Orlando area.
Paul, a native of Los Angeles, began his career on KFI’s Radio Theatre "The Last Great Radio Show" in 1975 accompanying himself on ukulele. Paul kept busy performing with various bands around LA playing base guitar including gigs at Shakey’s Pizza Parlors as well as Six Flags Magic Mountain. At age 19 he migrated to Florida as a result of an offer from Walt Disney Company.
Paul did side gigs around Orlando including the famous jazz saloon Rosie O’Grady’s. From there he did a year in Bronson, Missouri, with John Davidson’s Theatre. Playing lead banjo and guitar in the orchestra as well as doing duos with Davidson.
Paul’s virtuoso skills on guitar take him around the country as lead guitar in stage productions and specialty appearances.
Among the other musicians set to take part in this year’s festival are Terry and the Pirates, High Sierra, the Queen City Jazz Band, Danny Sinoff and Cornet Chop Suey.
For more information, including a festival schedule, visit www.suncoastjazzclassic.com.